Nets set astounding record not seen in 8 years during deflating loss to Kings
Brooklyn Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn set a challenge for his team when speaking about their main focus coming out of the All-Star break:
“We have to be the hardest-playing team in the league,” he said. “When you look at us on film, when you look at us live, when you look at the first possession of the game, are the Brooklyn Nets the hardest-playing team in the NBA?”
The head coach’s message was not surprising after his team traded Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving for an assortment of role players. As the two stars walked out the door, so did the days of the Nets coasting through games and being bailed out by crunch-time scoring outbursts. But not only was Vaughn’s squad not the hardest-playing team in the NBA Thursday, they were nowhere near the hardest-playing team in Brooklyn.
The Nets fell 101-96 to the Sacramento Kings, and the hustle numbers proved to be the difference. Brooklyn held Sacramento to 32-of-82 (39 percent) shooting on the night. However, the Kings won the offensive rebounding battle 13-3 on their way to a 16-0 second-chance points advantage. They also routinely beat the Nets down the floor leading to an 11-0 edge in fastbreak points. Per ESPN stats and info, Brooklyn is the first team since Oct. 2015 to be held without a second-chance or fastbreak point in a game.
The Nets are no stranger to struggles on the glass as they rank 27th in defensive rebounding percentage for the season. Brooklyn surrendered 15 offensive rebounds to Denver Sunday, after which Vaughn said he delivered a message to his team regarding their effort:
“We talked about it the other day, I think we were 26th (in defensive boxouts) going into the last game. We can’t be in that 20 range,” Vaughn said postgame Thursday. “Every guy has to crash. If you’re not touching somebody, then you’re wrong. If you’re not helping your teammate, then you’re wrong.”
The talk with his players did little to quell their struggles. Brooklyn allowed 14 offensive boards against the Thunder Tuesday before being thoroughly outhustled by the Kings in Thursday’s loss. Domantas Sabonis dominated for a game-high 21 rebounds. Nic Claxton frequently found himself out of position while attempting to block shots in Brooklyn’s drop pick-and-roll coverage, which has been a change from their switch-everything scheme in recent weeks.
However, Vaughn pointed to the players around Claxton when speaking about his team’s defensive rebounding woes:
“We showed a clip at halftime where Nic (Claxton) goes over to block a shot, Seth (Curry) was in pick-and-roll coverage with him, Cam (Johnson) was the bottom weakside,” the Nets coach said. “C.J. and Seth both have to come and hit Sabonis. It’s just that simple. You’ve gotta be able to give your body up and have contact if we’re gonna ask Nic to go block shots.
That’s just one example. There are plenty of examples throughout the course of the night where you’ve gotta hit somebody. You’ve gotta be ok doing that.”
Here’s the play Vaughn is referring to:
Claxton, who is averaging a career-high 9.1 rebounds per game while breaking out as a defensive player of the year candidate, shared a similar sentiment to his head coach.
“I think all five guys need to do a better job of participating,” he said about his team’s rebounding. “We all gotta make sure we’re hitting somebody. It can’t just be two guys. It needs to be a five-man effort.
Despite their struggles on the boards, the Nets still had a chance to win late Thursday. After trailing by 11 to start the fourth quarter, Brooklyn cut the deficit to six with 7:27 remaining. They would have several open threes to pull within one possession but were unable to capitalize, shooting 0-of-5 from deep the rest of the way.
With the loss, the Nets’ lead on the Miami Heat for sixth place in the East is down to 1.5 games with 12 remaining. Brooklyn will continue a four-game homestand against the Denver Nuggets Sunday before back-to-back matchups against the Cleveland Cavaliers.